Shaikh Zayed with the Apollo 17
Shaikh Zayed with the Apollo 17 crew (Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, Harrison Schmitt, and Nasa scientist, Dr Farouk Al Baz in February 1976. Image Credit: Twitter / File

Dubai: The UAE’s keen interest in space, and the push behind the country’s first inter-planetary scientific mission, started at least five decades ago.

In the 1970s, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan, the UAE’s Founding Father, held at least three meetings on space.

In February 1976, Shaikh Zayed met three Apollo 17 astronauts — Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt — in Abu Dhabi.

Seven months before that meeting, on July 17, 1975 — exactly 44 years ago today — the Apollo spacecraft linked up with the Soyuz capsule. 

It was a historic space orbital meet-up: It showed how two different space vehicles (launched by countries who are bitter Cold War rivals then) could test their compatibility, dock in orbit and help in international space rescue.

The Abu Dhabi meeting between the UAE Founder and the Apolly 17 crew was arranged by Egyptian-American Nasa scientist, Dr Farouk "King" Al-Baz.

During the meeting, Shaikh Zayed was presented a model of the US Space Shuttle, five years before the rocket first flew. Shaikh Zayed was also given a tiny piece of a Moon rock taken by the astonauts back to earth.

In May 2015, Dr Al-Baz congratulated the country’s current Rulers by video link at the official launch of the UAE Space Agency. 

Al Ain Museum displays a tiny piece of Moon rock, a gift to the UAE given to Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan by former US President Richard Nixon.

It was “a symbol of the unity of human endeavour”. The Moon rock was gathered and carried back to Earth by the Apollo 17 crew in September 1972. The UAE was federated on December 2, 1971.

Apollo 17 was the final Apollo Mission, and astronauts Eugene Cernan and Ronald Evans were the last men to set foot on the Moon. Harrison Schmitt piloted the orbiter.

Today, the UAE’s space programme is already a reality. The country has launched numerous satellites, including the 100-percent Emirati-designed and -built KhalifaSat 1.

KhalifaSat already provides high-resolution images used for everything from urban planning to environmental changes and aiding rescuers in natural disasters.

Prior to KhalifaSat, two satellites were launched by the MBR Space Centre. The Space Centre also guides students to build numerous “cubestats”, miniature space satellites used for scientific research.

H-IIA rocket lifts off with KhalifaSat, the first Arabic satellite that is 100% Emirati-made. Image Credit: Twitter

International Space Station

On June 17, the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) started a 100-day countdown showing Hazza Al Mansouri, the first astronaut from the UAE, as he prepares for his mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Liftoff is set on September 25.

Project Hope: 2021

The countery's space programme is set to get a boost when spacecraft “Al Amal” (Arabic for "Hope") arrives in the orbit of the planet Mars. Hope's Martian rendezvous, expected in 2021, is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UAE.

Most of the Hope probe
Most of the Hope probe’s main parts are undergoing intensive testing with less than 500 days for the launch. Image Credit: Dubai Media Office

A robotic orbiter on Mars, Hope is set to lift off in 2020, when the orbits of both the Earth and Mars are their closest. The UAE Mars mission will take a year to reach the Red Planet. Once in Martian orbit, it will scan the surface and the planet's atmosphere with a variety of instruments. Hope would be the first interplanetary mission by an Islamic country.

UAE's Mars 2117 project

The UAE has an even more abitious plan: Mars 2117. The project proposes the construction of a UAE city on Mars by then. It will built in collaboration with specialised international organisations and scientific institutes.

UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri in training
UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri in training Image Credit: Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre

It is part of a 100-year national programme, the sets the UAE on an interplanetary exploration course.

The masterplan involves preparing national cadres that can achieve scientific breakthroughs to facilitate the transport of people to the Red Planet over the next decades.

The Mars 2117 Project was announced by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

The 100-year plan will involve scientific research programmes to nurture national cadres specialised in space sciences at universities in the UAE.


The masterplan involves preparing national cadres to achieve scientific breakthroughs to facilitate the transport of people to the Red Planet over the next decades.

Space exploration inspires young people like no other endeavor does. The UAE Space Agency has already set up six space research centres at universities and institutes across the UAE.

It pumps up students to do well in maths and sciences. This, in turn, helps develop the national talent pool, industries and overall national development. The masterplan involves preparing national cadres to achieve scientific breakthroughs to facilitate the transport of people to the Red Planet over the next decades.